Emily HawkinsComment

Keeping Your Eyes on Your Mat

Emily HawkinsComment
Keeping Your Eyes on Your Mat

"Try to keep your eyes on your own mat here - and really focus on your own practice."

Here I was: a yoga teacher in training, constantly looking to see how others in my yoga class were practicing. I didn't beat myself up about it -- observing my classmates downward dogs and forward folds. After all, this whole experience was about learning to see these poses in a new way. But if I'm being honest, it was more than that.

I found myself easily caught up in the appearance trap. Was my back as flat as my classmate's? Was I as flexible or stable in crow? 

It makes sense, that as people who find meaning in yoga, we can get lost. We look at Instagram yogis and immediately create a cache of ideals. We take note of clothing labels and the things they eat - or don't eat. And whether we know it or not, our brains are tallying up what it means to be a real yogi. We visualize what we must look like - in our poses and on the streets - and instantly begin striving, or at least diminishing ourselves, as we cannot meet the standard.

I've often found myself in this cycle. Browsing through yoga clothing because of too much time spent combing #igyoga. I have left yoga class, feeling like I had "performed" poorly, thinking of what food I needed to eat afterwards.

But when I pause. When I meditate. When I think about why I really practice yoga, I realize it has nothing to do with comparison or performance. 

I can't pretend that it would make sense to reduce yoga to a blog post - and I would never act as though I were the person who gets to say what yoga is. But maybe my own experience with yoga can point to what I believe it isn't. And it isn't what we wear, how we eat, or even how high our sit bones are in adho mukha svanasana. 

"Try to keep your eyes on your own mat here."

My teacher was correct to direct the class back to our own experience. Yoga isn't about comparing ourselves to others. It's about learning what happens in our own bodies and the growth we experience within ourselves. Yoga can be about noticing things we didn't before. We might learn when we hold our breath in times of physical or mental stress. Maybe we notice how differently our body feels from day to day - or how we can actually do difficult things. 

In this cultural moment, we are groomed by social media to constantly see what's missing. We are surrounded by ideas of what we should be and how we should show up in the world. I don't believe yoga is another place for comparison and image consciousness. I believe it's a place to redirect our attention to our own experience - a place to discover something new. As we lay down the ideas we have been sold, we are able to experience a practice as it is.